One of the biggest stresses for some families about the college search and application process is “How are we going to afford this?” The first step to answering that question is to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or the FAFSA. This application is used to determine your family’s estimated financial contribution (EFC) and whether your student is eligible for federal grants, loans, or work study aid. Everyone should fill out a FAFSA!
There are two big changes to the FAFSA this year:
1. You’ll be able to submit your FAFSA earlier. The FAFSA is now available to families several months earlier than in the past. This may give new admitted students more time to evaluate and compare financial aid awards and make an informed decision about which college to attend. You can file your 2017-18 FAFSA as early as Oct. 1, 2016, rather than beginning on Jan. 1, 2017. The earlier submission date will be a permanent change, allowing you to complete and submit a FAFSA as early as Oct. 1 every year from now on. If you file the FAFSA earlier, you might have an earlier indication of how much you and your family will be expected to contribute, which will help with budgeting for the upcoming school year. Also, many colleges and state funds have a certain amount of aid to award and it is dispersed until the funds are depleted.
2. You’ll use earlier income and tax information. Beginning with the 2017-18 FAFSA, you will report income and tax information from an earlier tax year. For example, on the 2017-18 FAFSA you will report your 2015 income and tax information, rather than estimating your 2016 income information. This change will make the FAFSA easier because you’ll already have done your taxes for 2015 by the time you fill out your FAFSA. This means you won’t have to estimate your income information. You may also be able to automatically import your tax information directly into your FAFSA using the IRS data retrieval tool.
Is this a good thing?
SC Test Prep believes that these are positive changes that will help give families more time to make informed financial decisions about which college will be the best fit for their student. Some of the benefits include:
1. The FAFSA will be easier to fill out. Since most have filed their “prior-prior” year taxes, they can use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool.
2. It makes the FAFSA you file more accurate. No need to use estimated numbers for the current tax year.
3. It lets you know during the fall of senior year what your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) for college will be. This way you can focus your attention on schools that are in your financial reach.
4. It gives colleges earlier access to their applicants’ FAFSA data and therefore more time to package financial aid.
What do I now?
1. Get ready for the FAFSA by creating an FSA ID — a username and password combination that you’ll use to sign the FAFSA and access certain websites related to your federal financial aid. Visit StudentAid.gov/fafsa to create your FSA ID, find out what information you’ll need, and learn how to fill out the FAFSA.
2. Go ahead and fill out the FAFSA!
3. Make plans to attend our workshop on Nov. 10 at 6:30 at the Spartanburg Library Headquarters about these changes and how the early FAFSA submission will affect your family. This workshop will be led by Carolyn Sparks, the Financial Aid Director at Wofford College. She will explain the changes and help walk families through the application so you will know what you to expect. This workshop will most benefit seniors who are applying for college for next fall.
4. Begin researching the financial aid deadlines for the schools that your student is interested in so that you are sure to submit your FAFSA on time, especially if you are considering early decision or early action.